The California Zephyr
While she's circling through the canyons, can't you see that mountain stream?
It's the California Zephyr, the Union Pacific Queen
- Hank Williams
I took a cross country train trip last April (and, if you read through that entire blog post - bless you ). I rode all the major Amtrak routes in the west except the Sunset Limited (which I have taken 4 times before - it's wonderful) and, perhaps the most scenic and famous of them all, the California Zephyr. I knew I was missing out by not including the Zephyr but also figured I'd do it in 2023 or 2024 if I was still upright. But, hey, I had earned so many Amtrak reward Points that I qualified for the trip to be my favorite price - FREE and I could do it this year.
This was a short trip compared to my big trip in April. I would jump on the Southwest Chief and head to Chicago... walk over to my hotel and sleep - get up and jump on the Zephyr- sleep in Emeryville and come home on the Starlight. And that's just how it went down. The top photo is of the magnificent sunset on the night of October 13 at the Fullerton Station which I have grown quite fond of...it's a cool old place in a world that seems to value the old and rustic less and less (perhaps this has always been thus).
I got on the train at 6:30 PM and had dinner - it was dark and I went to bed...falling asleep to that gentle rocking and rhythmic "clack clack clack" of the train - I slept so tranquilly... and woke up to the Great American Southwest.
Then it was onward to Illinois. Here is the wide Missouri River with the reflection of the train trestle.
I arrived in chilly Chicago and walked over to my hotel - had a nice dinner and went to bed - thought about going out and listening to music and then I thought - nah - too cold (it was 39F). The next day I had a relaxing morning and walked back to Chicago Union Station - and boarded the Zephyr. The first day would be in the plains and I would wake up in Denver...headed over the Rocky Mountains - in autumn no less...what a dream come true...
Here are some photos from the first day...it was already scenic but I had no idea of the show that was to come.
We arrived in Denver at about 7:30 AM.
We started the long climb up the eastern slope of the Rockies and, man, I wished I could have washed the window. I did take several photos but many were marred by the filthy and spotted window. I really wish Amtrak would wash the windows more often (they're too high for passengers to reach) and certainly before the Zephyr goes over the mountains. I know, after discussions with several other passengers, that I am not the only one with this sentiment. Anyway...I will try to show you a bit of what I saw. I was on the "mountain" side of the train but ran over to the other side when I could. We also went through 29 tunnels and the famous 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel...all of which were wild, fun and, at times, other worldly. The Moffat Tunnel is an engineering marvel and tragically took the lives of 26 workers while it was being built.
OK here we go...
Often, outside of my room - you could hear audible, "oohs and ahs" from my fellow passengers as we wound through the mountains. Soon we were near the headwaters of the Colorado River. Then we started the magnificent ride down the western slopes...
What an extraordinary day! After another relaxing evening and restful sleep I woke up in Winnemucca, NV.
The train rumbled into Reno and then up through Truckee and over the Sierra Nevada. The Zephyr kept on giving magnificent sights.
Now in California I saw sights I'd never seen before despite living here my entire life. Here is the Sacramento train station.
Soon the train made it's way to my hotel - right along the tracks - in Emeryville, CA.
Up early the next day to the jump on the Coast Starlight and come home. Lately, being the old fool I have become, I often tear up at extraordinary natural beauty. Let's just say it was a teary eyed journey. I sincerely hope I gave you a tiny idea of the wonders of train travel and, in particular, the famous California Zephyr.
See ya soon!
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.